Sunday, 31 July 2011

HYPNOBOBS 42 - More Tales From Mr Poe

In order to prepare for the second round of movie adaptations of The Black Cat next week, this time round we have two more tales by Poe that feature in the anthology films Tales of Terror (1962) and Two Evil Eyes (1990). So settle back by the fireside for readings of Morella and The Facts in The Case of M.Valdemar...


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Thursday, 28 July 2011

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY - Episode 3 Dead of Night

456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed

Quick recap - at the end of Episode 1, I thought 'right now the new team's together'. At the end of Episode 2, I thought 'right NOW the new team's together'. And thank Rassilon, at last this week not only are they all together properly but actually get stuck into to some action! Yes, this week we have some honest-to-goodness investigating going on rather than just reacting to enfolding events.

Making her Torchwood scripting d├ębut, Jane Espenson lands with a big splash - the writing and plotting is far tighter this week, and I for one am glad she got the lion's share of episodes to pen. Dead of Night we get a nicely weighted show that continues to build up the story, but delivers the developments as drama and action rather than the talking head info dumps we've had in the previous episodes. It really feels like the show is getting somewhere now after a somewhat slow start.

Character-wise, the team is gelling together nicely, with some nice interactions between our transatlantic band of fugitives. As I suspected, Esther fits in very well, and there's a marvelous scene with her and Gwen. However although there is nuggets of character emerging, Rex is still too much the obnoxious shouty one and little else most of the time. Elsewhere, Bill Pullman continues to shine as Oswald Danes, who is rapidly becoming the most intriguing character in the show, while Lauren Ambrose as Jilly Kitzinger is shaping up to be a tempting Devil in red. And if Dr Arlene isn't going to end up the fifth member of the new Torchwood, I'll eat my multi-coloured wooly scarf.

However, despite the show making pleasing progress, I did still have some niggles. I wasn't completely convinced by the introduction of the Souless cult (as pictured above). For a start, it seems to this reviewer at least, that it isn't entirely believable that such a sect would spring up in such numbers so quickly.  And while the masks make for a striking image, I'm not entirely sure that so many people would be wearing them so soon. Similarly I am finding my credulity slightly stretched with the rise of Danes as a media figure. Minor points to be sure, but I think these concepts could have been bedding down more believably with some tighter plotting throughout the opening trio of episodes.

Unlike the preceding two outings however, we get to see more of the effects of Miracle Day on the wider world.; scenes that show the impact of the Miracle beyond the TV inserts and conferences. But I couldn't help thinking that perhaps the chunk of running time occupied by the two concurrent sex scenes (apparently you'll have to see the US version for the full naughtiness) could have been better employed doing a bit more of this kind of street-level world building. However judging from the direction the narrative appears to be taking, in fairness I think I can better understand the choices in how they have portrayed the Miracle up to now.

Now as I'm keeping this spoiler-free, I'll limit my remarks on the plot twists and turns to simply saying that it's starting to head in some interesting directions. And although the last two episodes had led me to believe that Miracle Day would be something more like Series 2 than Children of Earth, the unfolding narrative threads this week show signs we may well be heading in to scifi with biting social commentary territory.

But that said, and despite Espenson's stronger scripting, Torchwood is still showing a tendency to clank along like a man with a bucket stuck on his foot at times. On one hand we get a well crafted scene like the aforementioned one with Esther and Gwen, but on the other we have some sex chucked in to show off how 'adult' it is, and some patronising dialogue for audience on both sides of the pond over the difference between the American and British versions of the English language. It's like the US writers have only seen the first and second series and are trying to capture that same lurches between quality and drivel. This episode is smoother, but you can still hear the clangs. Is this the infamous RTD factor at work? Possibly - I'll weigh that one up in a few episodes time.

But also this week some lines from Captain Jack crystallised a vague feeling I've had since the start of this series. In a conversation with Gwen he remarks that now Torchwood is just them - and that's the root of my nagging feeling. In turning them into an adhoc cell of fugitives, we've lost the big and grand scifi setting of the Hub, the links with UNIT and other covert  operations, and the massive collection of  alien artefacts/plot devices. Now admittedly as an ever mutating show, Torchwood never really established a mythology of its own, but there was a strong flavour of outer space spookiness inherited from its parent show Doctor Who, and which in its better adventures made its own.

However now we don't have that cosmic backdrop so much, or the history of the Torchwood Institute. The edge of weirdness is gone in favour of more conventional spy antics, so it's feeling a little like having the Doctor ditch his TARDIS and join Jack Bauer's counter intelligence team. However  as the brief scenes with the Souless proved there's still a hint of spookiness. Hopefully there'll be more to come, and it is still early days... but that excuse is going to be worn to a whisper next week.

.Finally I think I know who's behind the mysterious triangle on Wayne Knight's phone... It's bloody Chocky! No, honest - watch this, it's a dead giveaway!

Alright, so joking aside, maybe not. But I'd lay good  money on this classic piece of telefantasy having inspired Big Russel creating that cryptic logo... And I think it's a safe bet that whoever is behind Miracle Day hails from off world...

Further reports to follow...

Reviews of Episodes I and 2 can be found here



Expecto Spoilerum!

Last November, I had something of a dilemma – did I review Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part I now, or wait until the second half was released. On one hand, it was a major release that deserved some words from myself, but on the other, it was only half a story and as such hard to judge how well its set-ups were handled until you’d seen their resolutions. So then, feeling that until the second movie was in the critical bag, I’d have little to say other than repeats the general remarks on the series I’d already made in my review of the previous instalment Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince.

And indeed, having now seen the Deathly Hallows Part 2, I’m rather glad I decided to wait, as indeed this final part of the Harry Potter saga is indeed one movie split into two pieces. The second opens with the closing shot of the first and then just keeps on going. No recaps, no usual first act shenanigans, just the title and then on with the tale. Indeed, I’m thoroughly expecting that that foggy logo will be sliced out and there’ll be a complete edition of both parts winging its way to the shelves in time for Christmas.

Now then as far as the theatrical versions go, the first big question is do they work as stand alone films? Well, despite not really being designed to, they just about do. Obviously, if you see the second without seeing the first, you’ll be pretty lost. but frankly I’ll have no sympathy – didn’t you spot that big number 2 in the title? But sarcasm aside, in fairness you’d have been equally bewildered if you hadn’t caught all the previous instalments before seeing any of the films from the fifth (Order of the Phoenix) onwards.

As I have remarked before the first four books and movies operate as a series where each story can stand alone more or less, but the last three books are far more closely linked together and function more as episodes than single adventures. Indeed, as far as the movies go, five and six (Half Blood Prince) do work better as an opener and middle section when viewing the last four as a quartet. Now I know this as I had a marathon rewatch before seeing this last movie, but I’d hazard that the folks at Warners also realised this which is why they kept director David Yates on board to handle the second half of the franchise. And indeed this was a wise decision, as these last three books needed to be consistent with each other.

So then how does the epic final chapter play out? Well, pretty much as you’d expect if you’ve been following the series – as with all the Potter movies essentially we have edited highlights of the books brought to life in a vivid and entertaining fashion, with the intricacies of Rowling’s world and characters often taking a backseat to the magical action. And for lovers of the novels, this has always been the Devil’s bargain you make with movies – will you accept seeing Hogwarts, Quidditch and battles with Death Eaters up there on the screen at the price of losing many of the small incidental moments that give the books their charm.

However in splitting the final tome into two parts, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows suffers the least from this process of compression. Naturally there are still elements missing but largely, it’s a far more satisfying experience for Potterheads. The extended screen time allows Part I to resolve the characters arcs and Part 2 to wrap up neatly the plot threads and deliver all the big set pieces.

Now a big issue many have with both Part I and the book, is the middle sequence with Harry, Ron and Hermione on their extended camping trip. It’s often felt that both on the page and the screen that this is section that should have been cut as it is delaying getting to the meat of the grand finale. However, while I can understand this view, and it certainly raised an quizzical eyebrow or two on my first reading of that novel, subsequent re-readings and seeing the movie, have underlined a point that I feel many may be missing.

And that is this: while the Harry Potter series is an epic magical adventure, it’s not your usual fantasy saga, it’s a lot more rooted in character than Lord of the Rings or CS Lewis’ Narnian chronicles. Certainly when you read the full sequence, it becomes clear that although Harry can perform feats of magic, he’s in a world where everyone can cast spells. He may be hailed as the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, the great hope of defeating the Dark Lord, he is in fact just an ordinary boy burdened with the weight of expectation and having to handle an awful lot of traumatic events. Basically, although at first glance it appears to be a typical fantasy story going up against a Dark Lord, the Harry Potter series is also a tale of growing up. And for all the fantastical and magical elements, all our young heroes act like real children – joking, squabbling and worrying about homework as least as much as foiling Voldemort.

Now bearing the above in mind, look at that camping sequence again. On one hand, what we have here is a refreshing realistic portrayal of the situation; as I daresay that most of us in that scenario (and at that age) would just end up on the run, confused, frightened and not knowing how on earth to proceed against the Dark Lord. But one the other, we have scenes that resolve the underlying tensions between Harry, Ron and Hermione that have been bubbling under through the series. Now this is clearer in the books, but Yates has brought out these elements out rather nicely on the screen. All the romantic comedy froth in Half Blood Prince builds into the dark emotional waters that burst forth in their time in the woods in Deathly Hallows Part I.

Also on Yates’ watch we’ve seen some of the best performances from our young leads, particularly in this last two parter. And again the added run time has allowed more of the character moments to make it onto the screen, whereas young Daniel Radcliffe was assured more dramatic meat as the series has progressed, at last Rupert Grint’s Ron has had more to do than just provide quips. But the real benefactor has been Emma Watson. In past movies, she has been accused of being a little wooden but in fairness the character of Hermione until Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows has suffered from being cut down in the screenplays to a cardboard school swot role, just there to deliver info dumps and nag the heroes for not doing their homework.

Indeed, on the strength of the character work in these last two films, I can’t help wishing that both preceding books had been given the two movie structure so Yates could have brought more of the missing little details, back-stories and quiet moments to the screen. He’s shown a good grasp of how to translate complicated plot points to the screen in an entertaining visual fashion, and indeed some of the highlights in this adaptation have been scenes in this field. For example, Ron’s insecurities becoming taunting, mocking visions of Harry and Hermione together, the recounting of the legend of the Deathly Hallows as shadow puppet animation and Snape’s montage of memories in the Pensieve.

However I do have a one serious quibble with this final movie, and yes it does missing material from the book. Now normally in the case of the Potter series, I take such things on the chin with a ‘that’s Hollywood’ shrug – as I remarked at the top of the review, the movies are just edited highlights and that a more faithfully screen version could only really be accomplished in a longer format such as a television series. However this one I feel warrants a mention as it does revolve around the handling of the final battle between Harry and Voldemort.

Now what we have on screen looks great but I can’t help feeling that Yates has let his sense of visual spectacle over power the original scene in the book. You see in the novel, the duel of wands takes place in front of the amassed forces of both Death Eaters and Hogwarts but more importantly while we have the pyrotechnics we lose the war of words between the boy wizards and the Dark Lord. In the book, in this final confrontation he calmly faces his arch foe and explains exactly why he now is the master of the Elder Wand, publicly tears down Voldemort’s image as a master wizard, and generally rubbishes him by constantly calling him by his real name ‘Riddle’. Effectively, Harry pretty much disrespects Voldemort to death, showing him up as the utterly twisted and damaged charlatan he is. He doesn’t just kill Voldemort, he annihilates everything he stands for. Now I appreciate that the scene as written by Rowling is probably too talky for Hollywood but as pretty as the FX fireworks are, I think the end would have been more powerful if the war of words element was retained, even in a compressed form.

But once again, that is the Devil’s Bargain you make as a reader of the books went you go and see the movies. And although I think that in particular losing the reduction of Voldemort to Riddle aspect misses an important dramatic trick, the climax still works. Deathly Hallows finishes the movie saga in fine style. And although there are inevitably still niggles and questions over the direction the adaptations have taken, this brace of films have served the source material somewhat better than their predecessors, and overall the series has ended in a high note. They might not be either perfect movies or ideal adaptations but they have certainly delivered solid entertainment and plenty of moments of magic.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 sees the Harry Potter franchise come to an end. How do you feel? What's your favourite moment from the series? What would you change? Or are you glad that we won't have to put up with Potter from now on?

Well, having just returned from seeing Deathly Hallows: Part 2, so now I'm fully qualified to answer these batch of questions...

My overall feeling on the end of this series is probably relief. And no, not in a 'oh thank the dark gods it's over' fashion either! It more feeling satisfied that firstly they actually got the saga complete without dwindling profit margins leaving the series unfinished. And secondly that they kept the quality levels high. In fact it's a rare instance in a film franchise where the strength of the some of the later films tops the first outings.

My favourite moment? Very tough to answers as there are so many great sequences to pick from over the eight movie run. However, rather than stage an epic clash of the FX scenes, I'm going for a little moment that captures the charm of the books and the central friendships in the stories. It comes in the final scenes of the first movie just after Hermione has remember how to deal with the Devil's Snare that was threatening to kill them...

Hermione: Devil's Snare, Devil's Snare..."It's deadly fun, but will sulk in the sun!" That's it! Devil's Snare hates sunlight! Lumos Solem!
Harry: Ron, you okay?
Ron: Yeah.
Harry: Okay.
Ron: Lucky we didn't panic.
Harry: Lucky Hermione pays attention in herbology.

As for what I'd change... well as a lover of the books, there's a hundred and one scenes I'd have liked to see make it onto the big screen. However rather than single out an individual passage than should have been squeezed into the screenplays, I'd opt to just reinstate Peeves the poltergeist into the movie incarnation of Hogwarts...

Overall, I think the films have suffered from trying to cram in too much in a short space of time and consequently have been better montages of key scenes rather than coherent stories in their own right. But then again, plenty of folk who haven't read the books have enjoyed the series, so maybe I should get off my high hippogriff! But while I've had niggles over the approach the adaptations have taken at some points, it's been a fun ride over the years and they brought JK Rowling's world to beautiful and vivid life.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

SHUT UP CRIME! Just how super is SUPER (2010)?

The Holy Avenger says - Stay spoiler free kids!

It seems that in recent years there’s a whole new sub-genre finding its spandex clad feet - the ‘realistic’ superhero tale. Now I don’t mean the dark psychology and grown up violence of the Nolan Batman films, or even the ‘suggested for mature readers’ graphic novels such as The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen or Miracleman that inspired them and first examined the logical implications of what if super powered beings and masked vigilantes existed in a world that more resembled ours rather than the usual four colour fantasy universes they traditionally inhabit.

But well before the floods of post Frank Miller/Alan Moore titles that have given their heroes a gritty realistic edge, the silver screen was toying with placing superheroes in our world and exploiting the juxtaposition of fantasy heroics with the real world well before the two comics pioneers mentioned above penned their ground-breaking titles. Arguable the first foray into this territory was 1971’s They Might Be Giants, which saw George C Scott playing a man who has come to believe he is Sherlock Holmes. Later at the dawn of the ‘80s, we had not one but two movies that played with the conceit for laughs - John Ritter’s Hero At Large in 1980 and Disney’s Condorman the following year. However it wasn’t until some two decades later that we first got a serious look at the concept of super powers in the real world with M Night Shyamalam’s Unbreakable in 2000. However thanks to the special effects advances which have made comic book adaptations a viable proposition again and the consequent rise of the conventional superhero movie, the nascent sub-genre went back into stasis.

However after ten plus years of assorted big names from Marvel and DC hitting the screens in rapid succession, it seems that this contrasting approach to super heroics is finally coming of age. And now, in the wake of Defendor (2009) and Kick Ass (2010), we have SUPER from James Gunn. In this movie we meet Frank (Rainn Wilson), a short order cook, who after losing his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) to a local drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon). After failing to win her back and getting roughed up by Jacques’ goons (which include cult favourite Michael Rooker), Frank has a divine revelation while watching a bible thumping cable TV show detailing the exploits of the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) to become a super hero. Hence Frank begins a fumbling foray into the world of costumed crime-fighting, becoming the Crimson Bolt. Along the way, he finds help from visions/hallucinations of the Holy Avenger himself and Libby (Ellen Page), a comic book geekette who transforms herself into Bolty, his kid sidekick...

Now then two things are very apparent from the above synopsis. Firstly, that his low budget flick has attracted a very fine cast. And secondly that our hero, Frank isn’t exactly all there; clearly there are toys in his attic and all his picnics are sandwich deficient. Hence it doesn’t take long before his costumed capers start crossing the line and descend into ugly vigilante violence.

Now inevitably SUPER has suffered from being released after the above mentioned two movies; leaving many to dismiss it as a quick cash-in. However, in fairness the movie was already in production before either Defendor or Kick-Ass hit our screens and Gunn claims to have written a script treatment way back in 2002. Certainly he has already had a crack at subverting the superhero genre earlier, with the little seen comedy The Specials (2000) which explored what costumed crusaders do when not saving the world from super villains. I guess it’s just a case of Hollywood bus syndrome - you wait for ages for a movie that deals with ordinary folk donning a costume and then three turn up at once...

And while it would be easy to neatly bury SUPER as a more realistic Kick-Ass, or Defendor with added gore, it is a valid movie with its own distinctive take on the concepts of the subgenre. However if you’re expecting the type of buckets of blood action adventure Gunn delivered with his screenplay for the Dawn of the Dead remake or the tongue-in-cheek splatter of Slither, SUPER will come as a surprise. For although there are both laughs and OTT violence, these are just elements of a rather gritty but oddly charming tale of one man’s quest for justice and his own redemption.

And while SUPER has several amusing looks at the practical problems of becoming a costumed crime fighter in the real world, and delivers heroic action complete with low-fi Wham! Pow! captions, it’s very much a character driven story. I know it’s a horrible cliche to talk of movies being ‘an emotional journey’ but in truth that is exactly what SUPER is. And in many respects Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver is a better analogue for Rainn Wilson’s Frank than Dave Lizewski of Kick-Ass. Like Scorsese’s tale of one of society’s losers drifting into mental instability, Frank’s story explores the lives of the ignored, the overlooked and the disenfranchised.

In addition to a script that is sharp and surprising, we have an excellent cast to bring this underside of the city to life. Rainn Wilson is simply fantastic, delivering a performance than manages to make us feel rather uneasy about Frank but at the same time very sympathetic to him. Tyler and Page, as the two women in his life, also excel giving us characters that are in their own way as troubled as Frank. And Kevin Bacon puts in a superb turn as the Crimson Bolt’s reluctant arch enemy; rather than the usual scenery chewing Evil Drug Lord stereotype we get a far more realistic criminal - although clearly never in line for the World’s Nicest Guy title, Jacques is a good deal more human than the typical heartless monsters that run drug operations in the movies.

Overall SUPER is a fine addition to the canon of everyday superheroes. By turns it is both funny and shocking, but ultimately quite touching. And this is it's major strength, for as well as providing a subversive slant on the whole superhero circus,  there's an equally strong vein of social satire and commentary that's firmly rooted in the characters' emotional lives rather than crude polemic. It tells a tale that not only deftly balances the fantastic and the real, but is also well rounded and satisfying.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

HYPNOBOBS 41 - The Black Cats of Poe Part I

This week Mr Jim Moon begins an examination of the various screen adaptations of  Edgar Allan Poe's classic  tale The Black Cat. In this show, we look at The Black Cat (1934) starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the early exploitation flick Maniac (1934), the chills and chuckles of The Black Cat (1941), Roger Corman's Tomb of Ligeia (1964) starring the legendary Vincent Price, and the obscure but distinctly groovy The Black Cat (1966).

DIRECT DOWNLOADHYPNOBOBS 41 - The Black Cats of Poe (Part I)

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Thursday, 21 July 2011

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY - Episode 2 'Rendition'

456 Classification: Contains no sensitive information

So then, after last week’s hybrid beast - half season opener for the UK and fans, half pilot for the general audience in the US, I was hoping this second episode would see Torchwood picking up the pace now all the introductions were out of the way.

And indeed, we do get more action this week and best of all Captain Jack and Gwen back together and in the thick of it. However this is very much a episode of two halves, rather than continuing in the high gear that delivered up a car vs. chopper race in the closing minutes of last week, the show sort of slips back into first for the first half and restarts building the pace.

Now it does build up over the running time nicely and went it hits the half way mark the entertaining, fast paced thrills, spiced with snappy dialogue come thick and fast. However before then we have an awful lot more scene setting and slightly clunky info dumps. Now I appreciate this is a ten part serial and often in such epic length on-going stories the narrative can seem to be a bit slow and draggy for the first few episodes as it lays out all the details that the narrative is hopefully going to weave together into a satisfying gathering storm and drive towards a resounding crescendo. For an example see Game of Thrones for a recent and very brilliant example of this kind of long format story telling.

However I can’t help feeling that Miracle Day is currently falling into the trap of too often telling rather than showing. The wider and worrying consequences and implications of nobody on planet Earth dying are too often not being delivered as dramatic scenes that illustrate the points the plot is trying to make in a gripping and elegant manner. Instead Dr Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) is being used as a kind of human coat peg to hang various scenes of anonymous medicos discussing expository detail, which is rather a shame as her character could be being used more to illustrate the catastrophe rather than just hobnob with talking heads. Now obviously there’s alot of information that needs to be communicated but we need stronger character action and situations to bring said details to life. It is still early days, but the show needs at some point to start more vividly portraying the effects of Miracle Day rather than just keep on verbally sketching them in.

Now that not to say that this episode is simple dulls bits followed by exciting stuff as there is some interesting drama going on through the first half. Without giving anything away, Oswald Danes becomes a far more intriguing figure this week, becoming a more rounded and interesting character than the sub Lecter Evil Clever Nasty Man we saw last week, with Bill Pullman getting some decent drama to sink his teeth into. Plus we get an introduction to CIA Director Brian Friedkin, played by cult favourite Wayne Knight, who is reliable as ever. And there’s also the introduction of a new face, PR agent Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) who looks to some one to keep a close eye on...

Of our heroes, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) gets promoted from audience viewpoint duties into some action of her own, whereas Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) thankfully get more to do than just bark and wheeze, although his character still isn’t much more than a cookie cutter gruff tough guy at the moment. But judging by the shape of the storyline, I’m hoping next week we might get to see him become a more well rounded figure.

So then, that leaves the real star turns to come from Barrowman and Myles as Jack and Gwen. Now as I alluded to earlier, it’s great to see the old team back together and in peril again. But undoubtedly Eve Myles takes the crown this week, scoring highly in the categories of Smart, Funny and Right Hooks.

Overall, this was a much more fun outing that last week’s opener, however I still have a fair few niggles about the plotting.  It’s not operating like the well oiled mean machine that was Children of Earth, rather it has the lashed together jalopy feel of Series Two - it gets from A to B but but it’s not a smooth and stylish ride and you can feel the wheels of the script bumping over a few plot hole potholes in the road. I have other lingering questions too about how Torchwood, as an organisation is being used in this latest series, but I won’t go into these just yet as the next few weeks may pacify them or possibly exacerbate them further. So right now it’s a case of wait and see...

...Which isn’t actually a bad way of summing up my feelings on this series so far. Yes, there’s potential here but it’s for success and failure in equal measure. However there’s enough good stuff to keep me watching but at the same time I rather doubt that it’s going to scale the heights of Children of Earth as considering the first two episodes together we have a seemingly somewhat rickety first fifth. I say ‘seemingly’ for as yet we don’t know how the pieces we do have are going to fit together in the finished story. But right now, my view is that Miracle Day is proving entertaining but at the same time that old teacher favourite ‘Could do better’ keeps appearing in the margins of my mind...

Further reports to follow.....

Sunday, 17 July 2011

HYPNOBOBS 40 - Two Tales From Mr Edgar Allan Poe

In order to prepare for some forthcoming shows in which we shall be discussing the various feline noir movies inspired by Mr Edgar Allan Poe, this week we return to the Library of Dreams, where curled up by the fire is Mr Jim Moon who will read for you Mr Poe's classic tales The Black Cat and Ligeia...

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Friday, 15 July 2011


456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed

To say that Torchwood has had something of a chequered past is to put it mildly. However it is a fascinating case study of televisual evolution. The first series which aired on the small of the smaller digital channels BBC 3,  was met with a somewhat mixed reaction. However despite clear signs of a rushed production, it garnered handsome enough viewing figures to warrant swift repeats on the much more prestigious BBC2, where its second series would find a first showing home. And besides gaining an improved slot, the second of adventures showed a marked improvement with many of the fan niggles about the first batch of episodes being rectified.

However most remarkable of all was the third series. Firstly we had a massive format change; instead of the previous template of 13 episode seasons of more or less stand alone stories, Torchwood: Children of Earth was a five part mini series telling one tale that aired on consecutive nights in a single week. Now while fans where pleased to see the show had now moved to a prime time BBC1 slot, there was much muttering and carping about only getting five episodes...

...At least until they aired, and then all was forgiven. As to everyone's surprise Torchwood: Children of Earth turned out to be not only the kind of 'Doctor Who for grown-ups' this spin-off show had always been promising us, but was actually one of the best pieces of British sci-fi television in a long time. It was dark, complex and intelligent, armed equally with sharp science fiction concepts and cutting social commentary. Torchwood hadn't just at last equalled its parent show, but produced a tale that could be comfortably compared with the works of British sci-fi genius Nigel Kneale. And naturally viewers wanted more...

However instead of more of the same, Torchwood has evolved again. Now a joint venture between the BBC in the UK and Starz in the US, Captain Jack and Gwen have at last resurfaced in a new 10 part series, which like its immediate predecessor, is telling a single story rather than reverting to the old adventure of the week format. Series creator Russell T Davies is still helming the ship, but this time round sharing writing duties with some stateside scribes, mainly Jane Espenson and John Shiban. So then with such talents on board, not to mention the budgetary benefits of working in partnership with Starz, Miracle Day has got a good start in life. However equally, the usual excuses of no money and weak scripts aren't going to cut it this time around. And the triumph of Children of Earth could well prove to an albatross round the show's neck - in short it's got a lot to live up to.

So then how did the first episode play out? Well, pretty much as I expected it to - being a co-production and having decimated both the old team and set up of the previous three series, this episode was bound to be heavy on introductions. Not only do we have to meet the new characters who are going to join Jack and Gwen, but also the show was clearly going to be weighted towards the US audience for whom all this was was unknown territory.

Now being familiar with the whole Torchwood set-up, it's a little hard for me to judge how well this opener does it's job. However although this episode wasn't Davies best script work I've seen, it did seem to get the job done and place all the players on the board and start weaving plot threads for the next nine weeks. Yes, there were frequent info dumps, but they were in bite-size portions and the show did keep things moving in between these necessary bouts of exposition.

However I did feel that RTD concentrated so much on introducing characters, the actual events of Miracle Day itself was pushed into the background at little. But in fairness, we do have another two months to get tot grips with all the implications and consequences of nobody on planet Earth dying.

Of course the other downside is that if you are familiar with Torchwood and its characters this episode will play somewhat slowly, telling you a lot you already know. Of the new characters, CIA boss Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) did little other than shout on the phone and wheeze alot, hopefully now the introductory stuff is done with and the new team is assembled we'll be able to get a better grip on his character. Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) however fared much better, with Davies making her the audience identification character for new viewers. She's certainly a likeable figure, and it's going to be interesting to see how she sparks off the other members of the team.

Naturally as so much of this first episode is just setting up the building blocks of not just the storyline but the series itself, it's hard to come to any firm conclusions about the real quality of this latest manifestation of Torchwood. On one hand I must confess to being a tad underwhelmed, but equally I did expect this would be the case with so many introductions to be made for a new audience. Basically this episode shows all the usual weaknesses inherent in pilot episodes, but on the upside, there's an intriguing enough premise here to justify coming back next week, when hopefully the show will get out of first gear and start properly motoring.

And indeed we'll return to see how they are getting along in a couple of weeks...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

If you had unlimited lego, space and time, what would you build?

Ah Lego! How I loved thee! But I built wardroids and space cities, an Tie Fighter and X Wing for my Star Wars figures, a Nautilus style submarine for my little Lego fellas and even a motorised K9... One of the earliest toys I remember owning and one of the last to go before hormones demanded I put aside childish things... Bestest toy ever invented? I think so...

Now the possibilities offered by unlimited bricks, time and space are damn near infinite! And while I'd be tempted to to attempt some arty cleverness in the vein of Nathan Sawaya, a more appropriate answer would be the project I'd have done given this opportunity as a nipper...

And that would be a massive undertaking inspired by one of my other childhood obsessions, the scifi TV sagas of Mr Gerry Anderson... which I never had nearly enough bricks for back then...

Yes, I'd build Lego Mini Figure scaled versions of all the Thunderbirds and their super secret base, Tracy Island. But I wouldn't stop there... I'd go on to translate his whole universe in little plastic bricks; from Captain Scarlet's Cloudbase in the heavens, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol HQ at Marineville in the seas, and the moonbases of UFO and Space 1999! All with their attendant vehicles of course!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Beneath the Mask - Movie Make-up Techniques Revealed

The Genesis of Mr Hyde

For many genre fans, part of the fascination with the cinematic worlds of sci-fi, fantasy and horror is the magic of the special effects wizards. And so, very soon as well as knowing all the names of all monstrous screen creatures great and small, a young fan will learn the names of the talented folk who bring these illusions to the screen. Indeed many a fan has sought out obscure slashers like Eyes of A Stranger just see make-up effects courtesy of Tom Savini or endured the likes of Track of the Moonbeast just because Rick Baker did the creature work. And a point often misunderstood about the horror genre in particular is the joy in seeing a make-up master's works - it's not the graphicness of the gore and ugliness we are applauding, it's the expert execution of an illusion. Just as audiences are thrilled rather than repulsed by a magician sawing a woman in half, cinematic make up effects offer the delight of seeing the impossible made flesh. And it's this craft behind the grand guinol that we admire, not the alleged vicarious sadism or revelling in grotesqueness. 

Dick Smith at work

Now one of the great masters of this art is Dick Smith, a truly ground breaking talent whose work is the very foundation of modern day special make-up effects work. Besides the famous illusions he created for The Exorcist and The Godfather, and training many of today's masters of the craft like Rick Baker, Smith has always understood the fascination fans have had for his work. In the '60s, he published Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook in Famous Monster of Filmland, and later in the '70s created this hobby kit for the budding make-up artist...

... a veritable box of delights which had my teenage self slathering family and friends with his 'flex flesh' and staining countless garments with fake blood. And today, although now retired from movie work, Dick is still passing on the techniques of his craft via a correspondence course.

Now thankfully for those of use too cack-handed to master such arts but still entranced by the craft, there is an excellent blog being written by a talented soul who has enrolled. At britzombiegirlartblog, you can follow Zoe's progress as she gets to grips with the master's teachings. And absolutely fascinating it is too!

Now we've all seen assorted making up featurettes over the years, but this blog gives you far more detail than the usual DVD fillers. And Zoe (aka @Britzombiegirl on the Twitters) is an excellent guide to this secret world of movie magic, with a knack of being very entertaining while explaining very complex technicalities in a clear and interesting way. If you've ever wondered how they create all those pores in skin textures or how prosthetics are designed, then this is the site for for you. Packing with intriguing detail and lavishly illustrated of the work in progress, britzombiegirlartblog is a must for all effect lovers. I for one can't wait to see how her Mr Hyde design turns out...

Zoe's lovely conception of Edward Hyde

Sunday, 10 July 2011

And All Because...

And all because.... (mp3)

A leaked new ad from Cadbury or some audio nonsense from me? Either way, if you were thinking of buying the last ever News of the World as a collector's edition... Don't!

HYPNOBOBS 39 - The Camera Never Lies

Mr Jim Moon takes a look at a host of found footage movies and mockumentaries. The films discussed are Home Movie (2008), The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007), Lake Mungo (2008), Catfish (2010), 84C MoPic (1989), Behind The Mask -The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) and  Incident At Loch Ness (2004). All discussions are spoiler free.


Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOGORIA family here -

Saturday, 2 July 2011

HYPNOBOBS 38 - Two Tales from HP Lovecraft

By the cosy fireside in the Library of Dreams, Mr Jim Moon presents two early classics from HP Lovecraft - The Outsider and The White Ship...

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOBOBS 38 - Two Tales from HP Lovecraft

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOGORIA family here -

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